Wednesday 8 August 2012

The Perfect Church?

This week I watched "Amish, A Secret Life". I don't know if you saw it, but it tells the story of David and Miriam, a young Amish family struggling between their allegiance to the Amish old order, and their wish to move with current times and redefine what church and their religion means to them. I found the documentary so interesting as over the last year I have been struggling with the concept of church and finding a church where we feel that we belong.

Our 'home' church is a large, evangelical progressive forward thinking church. I have been a member there since I was seventeen. For the last fifteen years I have called it my home church. When the church first started it was a small church of maybe just over a hundred or so at each service. The worship was amazing, the teaching was amazing and the fellowship was amazing. Over the years the success of the church has been phenomenal and the congregation has grown, as has the reputation of the church and the following of it's worship leaders and speakers. People often bring groups from other churches to visit our church. Quite often it's standing room only if a popular worship leader or speaker is appearing.

In my twenties, the church was the centre of my life. My friends all attended the church, and I socialised with them outside church. My housemates went to the church & I even met my husband through the church. Slowly friends moved away, began to marry, or migrated elsewhere. New faces began to form a sea of anonymity, growing in number as every Sunday passed. Regularly I was welcomed and asked "is this your first time here?" - this was then followed by an awkward conversation about how I had attended since the early days.

Today there is well over a couple of thousand people in the church over three services. Due to this large number, it has become harder to maintain relationships and get to know people. After the church service, we have found that many people walk straight past us, or through us as if we are not there. Sometimes you might recognise a glimpse of an old face you knew years ago, but most of the time, people are too pre-occupied with their own agendas and seeing the 'right' people after church to enquire how your week has been or if everything has been going ok with you. Once in a while if I am feeling brave I might venture up to someone and introduce myself, asking them if they enjoyed the service and try to start a conversation. All to often I am cut short as soon as they spot a familiar face.

Over the previous months we have realised that unfortunately our church doesn't really seem like home anymore. Recently I have admitted to myself that I only go for the fabulous worship, and out of a sense of duty of making sure the kids attend church. All of the reasons I used to love it no longer exist. The church is predominantly a "youth" church and aims to cater for youth. Somehow I feel that for whatever reason, they are failing to reach out to those who were effectively kids when they started attending the church and now have kids of their own. We no longer feel that our home church is relevant to us. We no longer recognise many people in the congregation when we go. The last time we attended, not one person spoke to us after the service.

Another issue is that we no longer feel comfortable leaving our kids at the Sunday School as many of the helpers do not have their own kids, or any qualifications to care for kids. In the creche, we have watched youngest left to cry for over ten minutes with no one going to comfort her until we intervened and removed her. In sunday school, eldest comes out with her nice clothes covered in paint or glitter every time we send her, or with tales of kids who have hurt her as they weren't being supervised properly. If our kid's aren't happy in the Sunday school, we would rather have them in the service with us, but then they ask parents to take kids out if they are unsettled so we can't win either way.

Fellowship is an integral part of going to church and one which we have struggled with over the last couple of years. We love attending church for the worship, but the fellowship that used to be at the heart of church life has dwindled as the church has increased in popularity and for us it is now virtually non-existent. We have definitely noticed a clique of those with families who are in the "in group" and outsiders like us who seem to be falling by the wayside. Perhaps the church is a victim of its own success... perhaps its us because we are now looking for different things.. but the search for a new church is hard. It always seems that the churches with fantastic fellowship are smaller, more traditional churches, where the fellowship is good, but the teaching is hit and miss, and the worship is still sung from twenty year old hymn books. Or you find a church with great teaching and worship but the fellowship is so impersonal.

Recently eldest started attending a Church of England school and we have frequented the service at the church attached to the school a few times. The services have been vastly different to what we are used to and its a difficult adjustment to make going from a very progressive church in a nice warm warehouse where the worship is led by a band, and the singing is joyous but anonymity reigns supreme, to an Anglican church in a cold building, with a small congregation and where the worship is led from an OHP and a backing track, clapping is 'out there' and the singing is strained at times, but the people are very friendly and welcoming and there is a great sense of fellowship.

I don't know what the answer is - perhaps there is a happy medium, but we have not found it yet. I can relate to the Amish couple David and Miriam, as like them, our belief in God is steadfast, but our quest for a fellowship where we fit in is ongoing. For now we shall just keep on looking. However, my experiences have led me to wonder - Is there such a thing as the perfect church?

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